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One woman’s honest account of what it’s really like to live with binge eating disorder, and how she avoids the triggers that can lead to an eating spiral. This is Lynda’s story.
It’s hard to know when my binge eating began. I’ve always loved food. I’m the fourth of five kids, and my mom is a good cook.
As a family, we sat down to dinner every night when Dad got home from work. I enjoyed Mom’s savoury meal and then shortly thereafter would make a batch of lemon bars or chocolate chip cookies. I rarely experience satiety, the physical sensation of feeling full. So eating half a batch of lemon bars or three pieces of cake in the evening after a full dinner wasn’t uncomfortable.
As a teenager, my older sister and I often visited the library and then bought snacks on the way home. We sat in the living room reading our library books while munching on the snacks tucked beside us. My sister often went for sunflower seeds, but my weakness was sweets, especially chocolate. I could eat an entire bag of sweets in one sitting. I wasn’t heavy. At five feet five inches, I wore size twelve jeans which, at the time, was considered average. But my mother was very conscious of her figure, and those of her four daughters. She was always dieting, and so were we. But diets never lasted long in our house. I was most happy when creating confections in the kitchen, and even happier eating them.
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But that all changed when I became pregnant with my firstborn. I remember feeling like the sky’s the limit on what I could eat. Maternity clothing would hide everything! I gained 20kg during my first pregnancy, but my eating didn’t slow down after giving birth. I ate 500ml of ice cream every night. If you bought 3.5 litres, you’d get extra free. I earned a lot of free ice cream.
Over the next ten years, I happily birthed three more babies. And my weight was out of control. I managed to lose a large amount of weight a number of times. I loved how I looked when thin, but maintaining that weight loss was a struggle. I had to be extra strict. I couldn’t eat just one nibble. Like a magician, I could make a batch of brownies disappear within short order. In addition, I lacked satiety; my stomach never registered full. I didn’t know this wasn’t normal. Each evening when I brought out the ice cream and offered my husband a bowl, he declined, saying he was still full from dinner. I couldn’t understand such a notion.
I never ate three meals a day. Instead, I preferred to graze all day long. And my food choices were terrible. I cooked a hot dinner for my family just like my mom did, but I never ate the vegetables unless they were smothered in cheese sauce or garlic butter. Why bother? To my thinking, they offered kilojoules that were better spent on comfort food waiting for me after the dinner dishes were done.
Once the kids were old enough to notice that a freshly baked batch of cookies had mysteriously disappeared, I began to feel guilty. And I also got crafty at hiding my problem. I never owned up to eating an entire batch of lemon bars in one sitting; I was terribly embarrassed at my lack of control. I never sought treatment for binge eating because it wasn’t until years later that I realised I even had a disorder. It simply wasn’t discussed, and food was something my large family enjoyed.
As a yo-yo dieter, I hated going out in public unless I was thin. As a large woman, I noticed that in general, society ignores obese people. We are invisible or dismissed. I readily smile at strangers, but when I was obese, that smile was rarely reciprocated. When I was thin, smiles were abundantly exchanged. Why are we judged on size alone? I had a kind, compassionate heart. I had good manners. I was intelligent. I was a good mother and good wife. I wasn’t sloppy or lazy. My clothing was clean, and I showered daily. Yet I couldn’t deny that the difference of how I was treated was based solely on my body’s size.
The pivotal moment came ten years ago, when I turned forty. As an obese woman, I avoided healthcare unless it was something urgent. But I worked in the medical field, and my annual exam was long overdue. I knew it was probably time to schedule an appointment, which I did. I was sitting in the reception area of the doctor’s office when the nurse finally called my name. I felt like I was walking a pirate’s plank as I followed the nurse to the scale. I set my purse down, took off my coat, removed my shoes and anything else that might possibly add weight. And the moment came. I stood on the scale and waited. The nurse didn’t flinch as she wrote down my weight. But I had sticker shock: I weighed a whopping amount. How did I not know I had gotten that large?
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It was as if a light switch flipped somewhere in a far recess of my brain. From that moment forward, I started walking. My neighbour joined me. She had a puppy that needed exercise, and I was determined to overcome my weight before the damage to my body advanced beyond repair. So off me and my neighbour went every morning like clockwork. We walked my kids to the bus stop, and when the bus pulled away we continued on to the nearby cemetery that offered flat pathways, scenic trees, and a peaceful ambiance. Every morning, Monday through Friday, we walked an average of three to five kilometres. I also changed my diet. I didn’t weigh portions; I didn’t count kilojoules, because that hadn’t worked in the past. My only diet rule was that whatever I put into my mouth had to be nourishing; it had to be useful to my body. If it came from a box or a can, I knew the artificial additives cancelled out most nutritional value. This meant that processed food of any kind was not only on the naughty list, but much of it was downright harmful. At first everything tasted bland and boring. Carrots and celery were considered rabbit food, and I missed the satiny texture of rich chocolate ganache. But I remained determined. Much to my delight, my taste buds recalibrated and healthy food actually began tasting good. Who knew?!
Since I didn’t own a scale, on the first of the month my neighbour brought her scale to the top of the driveway so we could check my progress. Between the morning walks and my eating for health, I lost steady weight every month. I didn’t have a set weight I wanted to reach. My goal was to get healthy, not wear a bikini. But one day the scale revealed a triumph that my neighbour and I never expected – I had shed 50kg.
Ten years later, I’ve kept the weight off. Has it been easy? Some days, yes. Some days, no. Stress, hormones and lack of sleep are big triggers for me. So I have to remain vigilant, because for a binge eater, all it takes is one sinful nibble and down the rabbit hole I go.
Excerpted from Grief Diaries: Through The Eyes Of An Eating Disorder by Linda Cheldelin Fell.